Tuesday 15 January 2013

What's a Desktop?

I got one of those phone calls this afternoon, where they claim to be from Microsoft and want to talk to you about your computer problem (taking advantage of the fact that most people who have a computer have Windows and/or a problem, usually both), with a view to getting you to pay for some alleged 'repair service' which will actually do more damage to the machine than good, and let the perpetrators run off with your credit card details.

I spotted the guy immediately - the combination of a thick Indian accent and the (always dubious) opening line "Hello, I'm calling from Microsoft; am I right in thinking you are the primary user of your computer?" - and since I knew the Accented One was a miserable low-life trying to pull a fast one on me, I decided I could justify wasting a few minutes of his time by pretending to be a tech-illiterate moron.  Five minutes spent trying to help me find my own mouse would be five minutes less for the cad to maraud around and prey on someone more vulnerable.  That, and I thought it'd be fun.

Needless to say, I fully appreciate the irony inherent in the notion of me playing the tech-illiterate moron, seeing as the computer is by far my most frequently-used tool, and I basically got my current job (coming up to its one-year anniversary next month!) on the grounds that I can speak HTML and I showed promise at navigating the shop's database.  But just for a few minutes, I carefully suppressed years of deeply-ingrained Windows-user know-how, and pretended I didn't have a clue.

"There's this thing out there that will infect your computer as soon as you go on the internet.  It affects all versions of Windows," the Accent informed me in apparent earnest.  "Oh dear," I muttered in fake worry, "that sounds pretty bad.  I guess I'd better let you give me a hand..."  And so we began.  I don't claim that what follows is a verbatim transcript, but it does summarise the more interesting points.

"Can you be in front of your computer right now?" the Accent asked me.  I was already there - having been using it when the phone rang - so I decided not to bother over-complicating that step.  "Yes," I said, "I'm there".  "Good," said the Accent.

"Right: is it a desktop or a laptop computer?" the Accent asked me.  "What's the difference?" I replied.  After making him explain two or three times, I finally 'deduced' what I'd known all along: it's all in separate bits spread all over the desk with cables between then, so it's a desktop.  I then feigned surprise at the 'realisation' that a desktop computer is called that because it's non-portable and stays permanently on the top of the desk.

"Which version of Windows do you have?" the Accent asked me.  "How do I find out?" I replied.  And then I muddied the waters further by saying I'd heard that there was this thing called Linux which you could get instead of Windows, and how would I know if I had that?  Mumble, mumble... we never did work out that I'm running Windows at all, never mind getting down to finnicky details like XP x64 Pro.

I pushed the OS question a bit further by asking "What happens if I've got Linux?  Will it still get The Problem?"  "Yes," the Accent said, "it'll be much worse."  Oh, really - I thought - well, thank goodness I'm not running Linux in your imaginary scam-world then.  I could have been in trouble.

"Could you go to the screen that comes up when you turn the computer on?" the Accent asked me.  "Oh," said I, "but I always have the screen on when I turn the computer on.  Otherwise I can't use the computer!"  Apparently put off for a moment by this unfortunate spot of ambiguity in the English language, the Accent changed his tack a bit: "Can you go to your main screen?"  "Um... I've only got one.  Some of my friends have two, but I don't."

"What can you see on your screen right now?"  I happened to be staring at Windows Media Player 11, so I said in dim-but-happy mode "I can see my music!" and merrily launched into a string of pointless questions as to whether the quantity or even the selection of music could affect the computer's vulnerability to The Problem.  I even started reading out the contents of my library, but only got as far as "some Adiemus albums, and the soundtrack from that Portal 2 game, and" before being interrupted by the next question.

"How old are you?" asked the Accent.  I feigned worry again and asked if I was going to be in trouble because of a legal minimum age for using a computer, to which the Accent said "No, no, I'm not talking about anything illegal."  This remark provided me the opportunity to slip in the knowing question (albeit still disguised under the vapid manner I'd been keeping up for the previous few minutes) "Are you sure?"  I don't know whether or not he picked up on the subtle aspertion being cast against his alleged Microsoft credentials, but if he did, he didn't let on.

"So," I blustered on, "does the computer know how old I am and behave differently based on my age?" I was somewhat taken aback by his answer - in retrospect, I think the Accent must have decided I was really stupid and thought it would be easier to just play along: "Yes, it does."  "Oh," I mumbled.

Anyway, I honestly don't know why he felt he needed to know my age, and I didn't much fancy telling him.  So I decided to bend the truth.  Well, alright, I guess misquoting your age by seven years goes beyond 'bending the truth' and counts as outright fibbing, doesn't it.  I claimed I was 17, and I think that was the point where the pudding got over-egged.  His Accentedness didn't buy it for one moment.  "No, you don't sound 17," he said.  In retrospect, I should have asked how old he thought I sounded - was he going by the timbre of my voice and cottoning on that I'm actually in my mid-20s, or was he going by the implausible stupidity of my responses to his questions and thinking I was more like 7?  I guess I'll never know.

I claimed I was really 17, but I have a throat condition that makes my voice sound unusual. And at this point, the Accent had obviously had enough, because he muttered something which I couldn't quite make out for certain, but which sounded a lot like "I think you've got a few other conditions as well," before telling me to "Have a nice day, sir," and hanging up.

One can only speculate as to how much longer I might have been able to keep it going if I'd come clean and said I'm 24...

Looking back on the conversation, the best bit was probably one of the earliest ones, but I thought I'd save it for last in the writeup: when he asked if I was the primary user of my computer, I said I was, but I said I sometimes let the hamster have a go too.  Needless to say, the Accent seemed to have trouble knowing what to make of this.  But while it may sound like the least realistic thing I said in the whole phone call, the beauty of it is that it's arguably true, at least in a manner of speaking.  Okay, so Dusty doesn't exactly 'have a go on the computer' as such, but he does sometimes walk across my keyboard and accidentally press the odd key with his feet.  So you could say he's 'on the computer', even if only in the crudely physical sense of standing on the controls.

As a coda to the story: once I hung up, I found myself shaking.  I suspect it was a physical reaction to the strain of suppressing my usually-dominant honest streak and telling barefaced lies for a solid eight-and-a-half minutes.  Strange and fascinating.

Anyway, shakes aside, I very much suspect (and certainly hope) that my Accented friend had the worst of the conversation!

- The Colclough


  1. I get calls from these idiots a lot. I so want to find out where they are calling from and send the police over there. OK, if they are international I could call Interpol.

    Matt, Your Fantastic for standing up to these morons. One time the bloke phoned up and I just hung up, but he kept calling back, so much so that I decided not to pick up for 2 minutes just to see if he got bored, he didn't. In the end I just told him I am not interested.

    I did come up with a plan where I could continually just say hello to him.

    1. the Interpol thing sounds like a good idea!

      since getting this call, I keep having ideas for what to do if I get another one. Some of my favourites include telling him he's too late because the computer already caught fire and destroyed itself (which happened to me once, when I was using Dad's old work laptop), or asking him to hold the line while I transfer him to the IT department and then putting the phone in front of my speakers and playing some music very loudly until he gives up.